Fear is one of our fundamental emotions. It arises out of the perception of danger or separation; it results in the ‘fight or flight or freezes’ response. It is a survival response that has played a fundamental role in the evolution of humanity and civilization, and it continues to play a critical role today, shaping lives, personalities, and destinies. It is wired into our autonomic nervous system, so everyone is affected by this emotion. So how do we use the experience in the most constructive way?
On one hand, fear can play a positive role, warning us, protecting us and helping us to stay on the right track when we are off course. But fear can also be crippling, terrifying, and it can stop us from doing things that are important. And intense fear for something that is not a danger becomes irrational and phobic.
Fear can affect our physical, mental and emotional well-being in many ways, including:
• Difficulty breathing increased heart rate, and heart rate variability, tightness in the body, trembling, dizziness, a churning stomach, and sweating.
• Anxiety, panic, a sense of losing control, excessive negative thoughts, over-reaction, paranoia, helplessness, and loss of self-confidence.
Psychologists have concluded that almost all fears are really about the fear of death or suffering, but in the modern world even small things create fear, e.g. “Somebody took my toy,” for a child, or “Somebody stole my purse,” for an adult. Fear can be about the loss of possessions, loss of life, loss of reputation, loss of power, or loss of love—it is all about losing something, and the greater the attachment the greater the sense of loss. By developing clarity of thought and a courageous heart, we learn how to deal with fear effectively.
Here are a few tried and tested techniques to deal with fear in various settings. It is helpful to have a journal and pen or pencil with you while using these techniques so that you can record your observations, thoughts, and feelings. As you learn and practice these techniques, remind yourself that you are an impartial witness, observing your traits, with a lot of self-acceptance and love. If you have any underlying medical or psychological problem, please seek medical help and use these techniques as complementary methods in discussion with your treating physician.